Tag Archives: death

The Closing

A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky
rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain.  Gautama Buddha

It is done.
The message glowed in my palm.
The screen went dark.
The home full of light and memory
had passed neatly out of our hands.

Half a day’s drive north
we rose with the birds
to wash our faces
walk to our cushions
sit in stillness
as the sun came up.

Occupied with the throb
and slosh
of humans being,
minds alert
to the swell and surge
of experience,

we did not gulp or grasp,
but lifted our forks slowly
to savor what was on our plate.

Carrying our cups attentively
like offerings of fragrant brew
we got insights
we got bored
our necks ached
our necks really ached
our legs cramped
our minds sank.

Fur grew in our brains.
A cat named Torpor climbed up our bodies,
stretched herself across our shoulders, purring.

We stepped carefully along the drive,
the wooded path, the lawn.
When the bell startled
the still air and the finches flew,
we returned to sit
and then to walk
and sit again.

Up against our limits for the taste of God,
we picked up our hand held devices
just to check the time
and well, maybe, any messages
and then like hopeless junkies
shot up
with the news.

And, Lord, like Peter, (say it)
we slept.
We could not stay awake one hour
to watch our own suffering
let alone yours.

And the tall ones,
full of grace, like some exotic species,
came and moved among us.
We tried not to grasp
their beauty with our eyes
or covet their youth.

When they left too soon,
we, shoulders shaking, sobbed,
Oh no. Oh no.
Oh please don’t go.

But they with other roads
to travel and business
of their own stepped easy
over the threshold, saying

Let go. Let go.

And Mary said,
They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him.

And the angel said, He is not here. He is risen.

And Jesus said,  Don’t
cling to me.

And raccoon, rotund and tight with bloat,
lay on the side of the road
and said,  See my insides are turned out.

And Coyote
trotting briskly across the clearing in bright midday
paused to look behind his shoulder
then disappeared into the woods.

A thick snake of ancient sorrow
rose up in us from miles below the surface
twisted, heaved us double with its force.
A wind whistling loneliness
whined and keened through all the spaces
in our bones.

every
thing
is going
back
and forth
across
a threshold

coming into existence
and going out of existence

while the dying rising one stands ever
on the brink
offering
a torn fragment of what is so

lost opportunities
things we have done we cannot change
our loved ones whose graves we want to tend

 we gaze at the ragged piece of our existence
resting in his tattered palm

Jesus, how will this ever be enough
to satisfy our hunger,
or slake this sorrow?

 Take. Eat, he says.
Be healed of thy affliction.

Thou, who gives and bears away,
grant us mercy
to take each moment
to our lips
and drink the cup you give
bitter,  sweet.

Give us,
O Sentry at the terminal,
where all things come and go,
the appetite and wit
to swallow and digest
entirely
what is so.

________

You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered. Psalm 90: 3-6 New Living Translation

This existence of ours is a transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain.  Gautama Buddha

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

Midsummer Tragedies

In the midst of life we are in death.
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Book of Common Prayer, Burial Service

He carried the news gently in his mouth. I took the gift from between his soft lips and mourned. The black retriever had scooped the lifeless, winged thing from under the bird feeder. 

The night before I stood on the glider and peered into the nest, hidden in the leaves. Two naked heads with open beaks peeped softly.

We discovered the nest, while trimming the trumpet vine, which covers the trellis around the patio. We put down our clippers and traded gardening for bird watching. For the past three weeks we delighted in the cardinal couple and their chirps and whistles. They took turns guarding and sitting on the nest and often perched on the trellis or on the glider under the vine.


What had happened? Mom and Dad had vanished and the other fledgling as well. The nest was vacant. The air was empty. Gone was purdy, purdy, purdy; chip, chip, chip; and the what-cheer, wheet, wheet, wheet, songs and calls.

We glowed under the blessing of their nearness. I wanted to see the youngsters learn to fly. Did a blackbird, blue jay, or that bold squirrel, who kept coming up close to the patio cause the tragedy?

I was going to write a blog about the fruitfulness of summer. Instead I buried the bird in the garden next to the zinnias and wondered where the cardinals had flown and how they were doing. I hope they begin again in a safer place than my backyard has proved to be.

It has been a tough week. A seventeen year boy was killed in a car accident. A family gathered to remove life support from their beloved. A woman, whose organs have begun to shut down, makes a last journey home to be with family. Twenty seven people die in an Afghan hospital when a bomb explodes. In Minot, North Dakota, the Souris River rises to snatch its prey – over 4000 homes flooded, eleven thousand residents have evacuated.

You know. You know. In the midst of life we are in the midst of death. A squirrel carrying off a bird is in the way of things. And so hearts, breaking from love and loss, are in that same way of things – life ending, people and things we love being destroyed, wearing out, wasting away.

So I say look while you can. Pour out the precious oil of your loving attention on what is before you. Allow yourself to be anointed ahead of time for the deaths you will witness and mourn, including your own. Hold your dear life close with open arms. You can always trim that trumpet vine later.

Mary Oliver Reads Poems at the Leid Center

Tall, slender, white hair falling over her face, stooped at the shoulders, unpretentious – she read about foxes, red birds, rivers, her dog, Percy. And a heron.

 

I saw it lift off the rail of a high balcony in the Leid Center. Unfolding her great wings,  the heron sailed over our heads and slipped neatly through the mottled blue curtain behind Miss Oliver.
I saw the tucked black foot of the swan in the dark water of the lake. I wondered if someone said there was a bear in the Truro woods, would the bear just maybe appear, because the town so much needed something wild and singular.

 

As she bowed over the podium picking out poems, Mary Oliver handed me my life on a platter. Lean over it, she said. Inhale its beauty. Taste its exotic flavors. Slurp the juice and let it run down your jowls.

 

The next day someone told me told about coming close to her own death, while flying north in a small plane. Ice began to form on the wings. Shaken to the core, she met her own fierce desire to live. “I don’t want to leave yet. I am not done enjoying the world and being part of it,” she told me.

 

The poet made a mistake. She was reading A Summer Day with its unforgettable closing line: What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Instead of reading precious, she said perfect.  Later in the question and answer time, a woman asked the poet if she finds her poems changing over time and that she had noticed Oliver had a changed a word in the last sentence of A Summer Day. “I did?! What?” the poet exclaimed. She had no idea she had replaced precious with perfect. “Well, isn’t that interesting?” she laughed.

 

Some are blessed enough to know life is precious. A moment is given where our wings take on ice, we go into a stall, and hover an instant before a freefall into the secret.

 

But what does it mean to know your life is also perfect? Coming from God and returning to God, how could it not be perfect? Ours is a God who told Moses his name was being itself, Yahweh.

 

Our life – frayed, fretful, and failed – is perfect. It is we, who give it a dwelling place and personality for a time, who are too distracted to see its splendor and too imperfect to perceive its perfection.

 

We – querulous and argumentative, standing center stage in our little dramas – miss that great and perfect bird sweeping silently through the blue, light streaked, curtain of mystery.

 

…Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is
that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed
back into itself–
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate.
.   .   .   .   .
…this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body
into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.
from Heron Rises from the Dark Summer Pond, Mary Oliver
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Ashes to Ashes

One by one they come forward. I press my thumb into the black sooty ash. On the forehead I make the sign of an ancient form of execution. Looking them in the eyes I say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” For some I have to stand on tiptoe to make the mark. For the children I bend down to sign their lifted brows.

After eleven years among them, I know these people – their pain, their struggles, losses, hopes, and dreams. I love them. They come to place themselves before the altar and ask for this – this sincerity, this frank acknowledgement of death. They come to receive the smudge that says they know they have fallen short and they are sorry.

In a culture which denies death, sin, and personal and corporate responsibility for wrong doing, I am moved by these who come to stand before God and one another in radical honesty. Instead of wrinkle crème and hair growth tonics, they wear the sign that says they know they will die, and because of that, and because life is good, they want to live it well.

This never fails to shake me to core – people coming together in the dead of winter, here and there, all over the world to bow their foreheads for the ash, to be told they are going to die, and to lift their faces once again toward the warm sun of redemption.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life … Book of Common Prayer
Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Contact Loretta at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross
Become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer